Saturday, December 31, 2016

10th Canadian Challenge - 14th Review - Liquidities

This will be a relatively short review.  Liquidities by Daphne Marlatt is a thorough revision of her 1972 book Vancouver Poems.  In addition to revising those poems, she added 14 new poems to Liquidities, which was published in 2013.  I can't remember if I picked this up in Vancouver right before I left, or, slightly more likely, in Toronto at the going-out-of-business sale for The World's Biggest Bookstore.

I generally compare Vancouver poems to New's YVR, and I definitely prefer New's relatively straight-forward poems to these poems that seem to skip from one subject to another to another, so that the linkages are really difficult for anyone other than the poet to follow.  This is my second reading of the poems, and some aspects are becoming more clear, but I suspect I'll have to wait another year or two and tackle the collection again before it makes more of an impression.

"Robsonstrasse" is one of the more successful, but it is still unclear what is linking these portraits, unless it is just the poet passing by a number of people on Robson and imagining their back stories: "hausfraus in the rush barely / notice / Chinese girl unhurried / waters down her pots / their pricey shoes"  There is also a Greek sitting on a park bench who seems to regret that he came to Canada only to become a dishwasher in a diner.

"Go on" appears to be a portrait of a lost soul - a wino or a drug user.  The poem opens with the woman apparently still in a drug-induced state: "go on along Main, along the way light lingers in the / goldfish bowls junk shops are made of, junk, a ship, to / sail away on, to opulent shores a commode, old needles, / her gathering flesh knows nothing of."  Marlatt has her "sitting alone / along the curb of public buildins, old Carnegie Library / closed down..."  This places her at Main and Hastings right at the heart of the Downtown East Side, which remains an impoverished, drug-infested neighbourhood to this day.  Interestingly, the Carnegie Library was closed in 1972 when the poem was written, but then reopened in 1980 as the Carnegie Community Centre.  I've never dared to go inside, since it just always seems so sketchy to me.  Anyway, the poem seems to mostly be about how tragic it is that addicts aren't really receiving the help they need in an uncaring capitalist world, though one could certainly flip this apparent concern around and ask whether Marlatt isn't trading on someone else's misery.

The earlier poems do recall Fred Herzog's photos of Vancouver, though these are mostly from the 1950s.  However, this photo is from 1968, which is not that far off from the time when Marlatt was originally writing her Vancouver poems.

Fred Herzog, Two Women in Coats, 1968

The link is made even more explicit, since Marlatt uses another Herzog photo on the cover of Liquidities.


Inside the book, however, she has slightly more up to date photos of Vancouver from the 1970s and 1980s by Trevor Martin.

The newer poems seem even more about how words sound and flow and are fairly elusive (to me).  Here is the opening of "raining buckets": "or backward wind slant street slick / neon used to shimmer Hastings awning shelter from drip / arrays rain city housing beyond the doorway solution for / every civic fabric ..."  Aside from the fact it is raining, I'm not really sure what Marlatt is driving at.

Similarly, "through cloud" is another portrait of a wet city, though in this case Grouse Mountain sort of looms in the background: "... couchant imperial untracked Crown looms legalized / so close down Main tonight hope snows veins eyes loose / change names liquid /  drip eaves long gone in re-/build demolished reconstructed viz city market dream the / local by early water under bridge no willow sole perch / sturgeon at False Creek points slaughterhouse then sawmill ..."

It's an interesting sort of musical poetry, but I definitely prefer more lucid verse.  At any rate, I think this gives a reasonable sample of what the poems in Liquidities are like and whether you would enjoy the collection.


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